While it would be easy to view Charlie Kaufman as a genius writer who just isn’t understood by the Hollywood system, man, that’s only part of the story. The writer/director, whose latest film “Anomalisa” is out next week, certainly is a tougher sell among the corridors of studios, but his talent is still in demand. And in a recent conversation with Vulture he shared details on a couple projects that just didn’t get off the ground over the years.
“…at one point I was going to adapt George Saunders’s ‘CivilWarLand in Bad Decline‘ for Ben Stiller,’ ” he revealed. Kaufman cites the book as an example of an artistically distinct work, that’s still emotionally affecting.
“I love David Lynch. He’s really important to me. Also, [Lars von Trier’s] ‘Breaking the Waves‘ has some sense of artifice in it to me, but the performances are extraordinary, and felt. I really like the Coen Brothers. I think ‘Barton Fink‘ does that in spades. It’s got really funny stuff in it, really over-the-top characters, but I feel things in that movie, too. And there’s a Swedish director I really admire, Roy Andersson,” he said.
“Probably there’s more people that do it in literature than in film,” he added. “Certainly Kafka does it. When I was reading Kafka as a teenager, I found out that he thought his stories were really funny. At that point, I didn’t understand that. But once I’d heard him say it, I started reading them differently, and I saw it, and I loved it.”
While Kaufman may have moved on from ‘CivilWarLand,’ the project is still kicking around. Last year, Stiller revealed that Owen Wilson was now working with him on the script, and that Sean Penn was involved as well. “It’s a weird one to talk about in public because over the years I’ve watched George’s status rise as it should have…and weirdly, that matters in show business when it shouldn’t at all,” he said.”But I honestly think it will help in the momentum of getting the movie made.”
Meanwhile, back in 2012, Kaufman was working on a series at HBO that was slated to star his longtime pal and collaborator Catherine Keener (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Synecdoche, New York“). Obviously, the project never made it to television, but Kaufman revealed to Vulture the high concept nature of the show.
“The whole series takes place on one day. The premise of the show is that there are so many different accidents in your life that lead you in different directions, and as you look at someone’s life from birth to, let’s say, 50, there are so many different versions of that life that could have happened. My idea was that you take this woman, she is this age on this day, that’s the only given, and then each episode is based on a different route. Maybe it broke off here and the difference is very small; maybe it broke off when she was a baby, in which case it’s a completely different life,” he explained. “In the course of the series, you start to recognize, first of all, there’s clues given as to what these things were that happened that changed the course of her life. But there are also similarities in all these different versions of herself — about who she is.”
“What I thought was really cool about the show, in addition to the premise, which I really liked, is that there’s no one right version of it,” Kaufman continued. “You can watch this in any order, and it’s a different show. The example that I like to use is that in one episode, she’s married to this man and you see their life together. In the next episode, she’s divorced from this man and you see her life having been divorced from this man. In a third episode, she and this man walk by each other on the street, clearly have never met. And depending on which order you watch the series in, there are different a-ha moments.”
That sounds amazing. But Kaufman says that HBO didn’t think the wildly divergent tones of each episode would work, and that Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, AMC, and Sundance all turned it down after it was put into turnaround. Bummer.
But the good news is “Anomalisa” is coming, and it opens on December 30th.